The Supreme Court, however, struck down that clause Monday, ruling that the law's prohibition on providing federal trademarks for disparaging terms or logos violated the First Amendment's free speech protections.
The federal government can not refuse to grant protection to trademarks that some consider offensive, the U.S. Supreme court ruled Monday. "The Supreme Court has vindicated First Amendment rights not only for our The Slants, but all Americans who are fighting against paternal government policies that ultimately lead to viewpoint discrimination".
The closely watched case of Matal v. Tam (formerly Lee v. Tam) involved an interpretation of the "disparagement clause" in the 1946 Lanham Act, which U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the ability to deny a trademark "disparage. or bring. into contemp [t] or disrepute any persons, living or dead".
Asian American rock band The Slants have won their Supreme Court battle to secure the trademark of their name.
In Alito's majority opinion, he added that suppressing disparaging speech "endangered" the First Amendment. "It seems this decision will indeed open the floodgates to applications for all sorts of potentially offensive and hateful marks", said Lisa Simpson, an intellectual property lawyer in NY. That case, before a federal appeals court in Richmond, had been on hold while the Supreme Court considered the Slants case. The ongoing controversy surrounding the team's unwillingness to change their name even after they have been told how offensive it is to many indigenous people will continue, but there may no longer be legal recourse to force a name change.
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"The point is that I can say good things about something, but I can't say bad things about something" in a trademark, she said.
The Slants went to court after being denied trademark registration for a name they chose as an act of "reappropriation" - adopting a term used by others to disparage Asian Americans and wearing it as a badge of pride.
"After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned almost eight years, we're beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court", Tam said in a statement on Facebook. The First Amendment doesn't apply to "government speech", in which case the feds should be free to grant or deny trademarks based on offensiveness or "disparagement" as they see fit. Without trademark protections, the Redskins faced the prospect of legal pirating of their name and logos.
The Redskins made similar arguments after the trademark office ruled in 2014 that the name offends American Indians and canceled the team's trademark.